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PFT's Week Two picks

[Editor’s note:  Each week, Rosenthal and I will go head to head,
picking the winner of each game.  The guy who does worse each week gets
to be the one to copy and paste together the text the next week.  Last week, we tied.  The NBC Competition Committee decided that I should have to copy and paste it all together again.  And so I’ll take the high road and accept the ruling.  In three days, after everyone applauds me for taking the high road, I’ll bitch about it on the radio.]

[UPDATE:  As it turns out, we didn’t tie.  Rosenthal won.  And I should have kept my damn mouth shut when I realized that he’d counted his victories incorrectly.]

Bills at Packers

Florio’s take:  In Week Two of the 2009 season, the Packers hosted an AFC team, and the AFC team stole a win.  In Win Two of the 2010 season, another AFC team comes to town.  But there’s a big difference between last year’s Bengals and this year’s Bills.  Even with Packers running back Ryan Grant done for the year, Green Bay has too much talent — and the Bills don’t have nearly enough.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 42, Bills 19.

Rosenthal’s take: This reminds me of the blowout specials Florio used to get to pick last year when we split the workload.  You could try to make a case for the Bills, but you’d be trying too hard.  Buffalo doesn’t have the receiver depth to test Green Bay’s secondary.  The Bills’ three-headed running game was oddly underused last week.  Their screens were predictable.  Holes closed on C.J. Spiller a lot faster than they did at Clemson or in the preseason.  Don’t expect daylight this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 27, Bills 10.

Dolphins at Vikings

Florio’s take:  The Vikings’ offense and the Dolphins’ defense cancel each other out.  So this one will come down to the ability of the Minnesota defense to bottle up the Miami offense.  Given that the Bills were able to keep the attack largely in check last week, the Vikings should have no problems shutting them down.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Dolphins 12.

Rosenthal’s take: Miami’s defense was impressive in Buffalo.  Mike Nolan did a lot of fun things with Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake; they can get pressure on Brett Favre. Even short a few players, this is an improved linebacker group.  Favre also may not be ready to take advantage of a Dolphins secondary that features Benny Sappy a little too prominently.  There’s an old axiom that you shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless you think they can win. 5.5 points feels like too much.  So let’s just go all the way and take the Dolphins in an upset special.  (I changed this pick at the last minute, which is the kiss of death.)  [Editor’s note:  Hey, Rosey, if you’re gonna pick the upset, just pick the upset and be done with it.]

Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 23, Vikings 21.

Chiefs at Browns

Florio’s take:  With former Patriot Scott Pioli running the Chiefs and former Patriot turncoat Eric Mangini coaching the Browns, this one carries a strong undercurrent of hostility.  Then there’s the fact that Browns running back Jerome Harrison shredded the K.C. defense for 286 yards last December.  Look for the new-look Chiefs to bring their new attitude to Ohio, and to send the Browns to a loss in the second of two games that most expected Cleveland to win.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Browns 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Remember all the positive energy in Kansas City on Monday night?  Imagine that, but the complete opposite happening in Cleveland if the Browns fall behind Sunday.  Jake Delhomme’s injury doesn’t hurt the Browns, though.  Seneca Wallace is different, and could force the Browns coaches to get creative with a roster that begs for creativity to make up for a lack of talent.  Eric Mangini can’t afford to lose the Belichick B-team Bowl after last week’s collapse in Tampa.  Romeo Crennel knows just how to lose in Cleveland.

Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 17, Chiefs 14.

Bears at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  The Bears lucked into a win at home and the Cowboys squandered a victory of their own on the road.  This week, the Cowboys head back to Dallas, 25 years after the Bears authored a 44-0 beatdown of the ‘Boys.  The Bears haven’t won in Big D since the year after that game — and their streak of futility will continue.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Bears 10.

Rosenthal’s take: No clue what to make of the Bears after last week.   Jay Cutler moved the ball very well, Matt Forte is revived, and the defense stuffed Detroit all day.  Yet they still needed a lucky call to save them from an opening loss at home.  The Cowboys are easier to read.  Their offensive line has problems and they know it.  The defense is great.  Will the return of two injured, older starting lineman be enough to turn things around?  It’s enough this week.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 24, Bears 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

Florio’s take:  The Cards barely beat a still-bad Rams team last week, and the Falcons gave fits to the Steelers on their home field.  Atlanta realizes that the window will close quickly if they can’t keep pace with the Saints.  Besides, Falcons are far more menacing birds.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Cardinals 20.

Rosenthal’s take: Arizona fans complaining about style points last week need to get a grip.  Kurt Warner has left the building.  This is a different Cardinals team, and they are going to have to win creatively while Derek Anderson figures things out. The guy led two impressive fourth-quarter drives last week and that will do for now.  Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has struggled to move the ball since the preseason.  I think Atlanta’s improved defense carries the day here.  Both these teams deserve to be 1-1. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 19, Cardinals 14. 

Buccaneers at Panthers

Florio’s take:  Since 2003, the Panthers have handled the Bucs on 11 of 14 occasions.  Though Tampa pulled off a minor surprise on Sunday against the Browns, the Panthers can be expected to take care of business on their own turf.  If they can’t, Carolina could be 0-5 at the bye.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Buccaneers 14.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bucs have a golden opportunity to go 2-0, even if Panthers starting quarterback Matt Moore plays as expected despite a concussion last week.  Raheem Morris has the Bucs defense looking improved, like they did at the end of last year.  These two similar teams fly well below the NFL radar and got against current league norms.  They want to win with running, defense, and not screwing things up too badly passing the ball.  John Fox has more practice.  And better running backs. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Panthers 20, Bucs 13.

Eagles at Lions

Florio’s take:  With Mike Vick making his first start since 2006, the question becomes whether he can play like he did against the Packers, who weren’t prepared to face him, when facing a Lions team that knows Vick will be the guy.  Lions coach Jim Schwartz never has had to defend Vick; when Schwartz served as defensive coordinator for the Titans, Schwartz’s team was the last one to play the Falcons before Vick returned from a broken leg.  Look for Schwartz to try to keep Vick in the pocket in the hopes that he’ll be forced to throw — and that he’ll force a few mistakes.  And then Kevin Kolb will get “healthy” quickly.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 20, Eagles 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The battle of the tortured fan bases.  The rest of the world learned about what it meant to be a Lions fan this week.  Week One, full of hope, they lost their young franchise quarterback and a game in the most painful way possible.  The Lions have a vertical passing attack with the weakest-armed quarterback in the league in Shaun Hill.  Eagles fans have it pretty good, but they like drama.  They talked up Kevin Kolb all offseason, then gave up on him after 30 minutes.  It’s hard to blame them after the way Michael Vick played last week.  Vick will put it to the Lions just to make this whole situation more ridiculous.

Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 27, Lions 16.

Ravens at Bengals

Florio’s take:  The Bengals somehow swept the Ravens last year.  It won’t be happening again in 2010.  Baltimore looks as good as they ever have looked, and the Bengals looked nothing like they looked a year ago.  Look for Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis to continue to drop the hammer on anyone who looks in his direction.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 23, Bengals 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals defense said they were confused early against the Patriots.  So were guys like Tedy Bruschi that picked Cincinnati to go to the Super Bowl.  At least the Bengals passing attack showed signs of life after the early disaster.  It may have been garbage time, but Carson Palmer couldn’t put up big stats any time last year.  Unlike the Jets, Cincinnati has the weapons to take advantage of Baltimore’s secondary.

Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 23.

Steelers at Titans

Florio’s take:  Last year, these two teams kicked off a season that many assumed would end in a playoff rematch.  Neither qualified for the postseason.  This year, both look like they’re on their way to another trip to January.  It all comes down to the Steelers defense against the Titans offense, and the Steelers defense is simply too tough.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Titans 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Titans were my pick to win the AFC South in the PFT Season Preview, so I’m basically going to take them at home unless they are facing the ’85 Bears.  The Steelers defense isn’t at that level, but it could wind up being the best in 2010.  Pittsburgh can neutralize Chris Johnson — they held him to 57 yards in last year’s opener.  So it will come down Vince Young versus Dennis Dixon and Young should be up for the challenge. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 14, Steelers 10.

Seahawks at Broncos

Florio’s take:  Former Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was essentially run off when Josh McDaniels became the head coach, returns to town with a team that unexpectedly won in Week One by 25 points.  But it’s one thing to put a pasting on the 49ers at home in the season opener, it’s quite another to do it in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 24, Seahawks 17.

Rosenthal’s take: These teams that are a total mystery, especially the Seahawks.  Can Seattle play so inspired without the 12th man?  What is this team good at precisely?  It looks like Pete Carroll is going to make this defense better and more interesting.  The offense has work to do.  In Denver, I know what I’m getting from Kyle Orton and his band of merry secondary receivers.  The Broncos can beat suspect NFC West teams at home.

Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 28, Seahawks 21.

Rams at Raiders

Florio’s take:  The Rams looked better than expected in Week One; the Raiders looked far worse.  But Oakland is at home and the Rams are still learning how to win.  Though neither team will be embarrassed, look for the Raiders to take care of business in the Black Hole.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 17, Rams 10.

Rosenthal’s take: The optimism stops here for one of these teams. The Raiders wouldn’t be able to sell progress after a blowout loss on the road and a home loss to the Rams.  Sam Bradford has given the Rams hope for the future, but the present looks awfully bleak if they go 0-2 with a soft opening schedule.  Two Raiders, including Jason Campbell, alluded to being overconfident heading into the Titans game.  You know, because of their draft grades.  Losing 11 or more games for seven years hasn’t humbled this franchise.  Maybe losing to the Rams will. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 21, Raiders 17.

Texans at Redskins

Florio’s take:  The reunion of the Shanahans and Gary Kubiak adds intrigue to a game that suddenly has become one of the best of the weekend give the teams’ performances in Week One.  We’ll quickly find out whether Houston tailback Arian Foster rolled up all those yards because he played against a bad run defense or because the Texans have become the ultimate “pick your poison” pass/run attack.  And we’ll find out whether the Redskins’ offense can score a touchdown or two without having it handed to them.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Redskins 24.

Rosenthal’s take: Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak are road favorites coming off a huge win. This is exactly the game they usually trip over, which worries me. Also worrisome:  Every aspect of the Redskins offense except their tackle play.  (How odd is that?)  Washington just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with Houston, who should give Arian Foster a break and only rush him 25 times this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 24, Redskins 17.

Patriots at Jets

Florio’s take:  During an offseason of incessant Jets chirping, the Patriots have remained largely silent.  Apart from Tom Brady’s acknowledgement that he hates the Jets, the Pats have avoided the trash talk.  Instead, the Patriots have saved it for the field, and the Jets may have a hard time saving themselves as the Pats make the only kind of statement that truly matters in football.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Jets 13.

Rosenthal’s take: What goes up in the NFL usually comes down. And vice versa.  An overconfident team loses one week, gets ripped, and plays hungry the next time out.  Last year, Rex Ryan called the Jets’ Week Two game against the Patriots the team’s Super Bowl.  This one is far more important.  The Jets know they can’t go 0-2 at home to start the year. The Jets defense still looks great. The offense can find a way on the ground.  Don’t crown the Patriots yet; this will be a season-long battle.



Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Patriots 16.

Jaguars at Chargers

Florio’s take:  Most expected one of these teams to be 1-0 and the other to be 0-1; few expected that the Jaguars would be undefeated and that the Chargers would be winless.  Though it may feel like a home game for the Jaguars since the stadium will be partially empty (rim shot!), the Chargers have the horses to get back to 1-1 against a Jaguars team that overachieved against the Broncos.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Jaguars 21.

Rosenthal’s take: The Chargers talked all offseason about avoiding yet another slow start to the year, and then slogged through a loss in the Kansas City rain.  Weather should be more conducive to vertical passing in San Diego this week. I don’t trust either secondary or either pass rush, even if Aaron Kampman looks like a fine pickup.  I’ll take Philip Rivers in a shootout over David Garrard every time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 34, Jaguars 26.
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Giants at Colts

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning has started 0-1 only three times in his 13-year career.  Only once, as a rookie in 1998, has Peyton Manning begun a season at 0-2.  This time around, Peyton takes an 0-1 mark into his second career game against his kid brother.  And more importantly than not going 0-2 to Peyton will be avoiding losing to Eli.  Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 31, Giants 19.

Rosenthal’s take: Both brothers have grown up a lot since the last Manning Bowl.  Peyton won a Super Bowl and did the United Way spot on Saturday Night Live.  Eli won a Super Bowl, got significantly better after the title, and adjusted his Southern fraternity mop top.  That makes this a fair fight, especially if the Giants pass rush has truly reawakened.  Fair, but not equal.  Peyton is still the one with MVPs and Peyton doesn’t start the year 0-2.

Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 34, Giants 30.

Saints at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Rarely if ever has a team with high expectations imploded as quickly as the 49ers.  They open their home schedule with a visit from the Saints, who will have had the longest possible non-bye-week time to prepare for the game, playing on a Thursday and next on the following Monday, 11 days later.  After the game, Niners coach Mike Singletary will be thanking Sean Payton in the same way Singletary thanked Pete Carroll.  

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, 49ers 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Weirdly dangerous game for the Saints against an ornery 49ers team.  New Orleans fans don’t like that I questioned their run defense this week, but one game doesn’t erase all of last season and a shaky linebacker group.  Luckily, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t have to get too creative to stop Alex Smith and the 49ers passing attack.  Load up the box, and dare Smith to beat you.  The Saints are in Payton/Brees version 5.0.  The essentially can do anything they choose with a veteran group of receivers.  The 49ers can’t get the play calls in on time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 27, 49ers 21.

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Alouettes welcome Michael Sam, hope he becomes a football story

michaelsam AP

The Montreal Alouettes know there’s a social statement being made, with the signing of Michael Sam.

And while they’re clearly fine with being viewed as progressive, they’re also expecting what football teams expect from football players — production.

Alouettes president Mark Weightman, suddenly in the middle of an international story, said  he hopes the focus soon turns to what kind of player Sam can be.

We’re very excited because we have a very good football player on our hands. That needs to be the opening statement. We’re excited to see what he can do on the field,” Weightman said, via Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette. “I think we all see it as a positive thing. We, as a league, have always been very open to all players — regardless of race, background, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. This is just another example of it. And it’s a great opportunity for us to show that leadership with a guy like Michael.

“We got ourselves a fantastic football player who has a lot of strength of character, who demonstrated a heck of a lot of courage to do what he did by coming out before the [NFL] draft, before his professional career. I think that shows a strength of character and a strong . . . moral belief system. Those are the kinds of people that are good leaders. You want leaders on your team.”

Sam is slated to be in Montreal Monday, and will meet the media there Tuesday morning. And then when camp begins Wednesday, he can begin the path to showing he’s a football player and not just a guy hoping to become the first openly gay football player in the NFL.

If all he was interested in was celebrity, the CFL probably wouldn’t have been his destination. But if he’s serious about proving himself as a player, he has his opportunity, and he’s found a place which will welcome him.

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Houston “Hard Knocks” lets NFL put Watt front and center

Watt AP

J.J. Watt is just the kind of player the NFL wants to market, a fierce warrior on the field who turns into an easygoing, likable guy as soon as the game ends. So with process of elimination seeming to leave the Texans as the team that will be featured on this year’s Hard Knocks, it’s a good bet that NFL Films will put Watt front and center.

Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player but is not as well known to a mass audience as some of the league’s biggest stars. Hard Knocks is a way for the league to humanize Watt and bolster his popularity.

Hard Knocks also needs Watt because the Texans are, frankly, not as compelling a team as some of the past teams featured on the show. Coach Bill O’Brien isn’t made for reality TV the way Rex Ryan is, and although the Texans’ quarterback competition will be a major element of training camp, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett don’t exactly make for appointment television.

So it will be Watt around whom the upcoming season of Hard Knocks will be featured. At a time when many well-known players are getting attention for the wrong reasons, the NFL will like that.

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Moss shows up for high school graduation of fan in Minnesota

Moss Getty Images

In 1998, then-Vikings rookie Randy Moss made good on his vow to rip up the league. Along the way, he befriended a toddler named Kassi Spier.

Kassi fought leukemia as a four-year-old in 2000. In 2004, her father died in a car accident. In 2013, Kassi learned that she had a brain tumor.

On Friday, Kassi Spier graduated from high school. And her friend Randy Moss was there for it.

Via inforum.com, Moss traveled to Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, a 2,500-resident town 45 miles southeast of Fargo, to hand Kassi Spier her high school diploma at Friday’s commencement ceremony.

Moss last played in the NFL in 2012, appearing in Super Bowl XLVII with the 49ers. He started his career with the Vikings, spending 1998 through 2004 in Minnesota. He returned to the Vikings for a brief stretch in 2010.

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New coordinator aside, few changes expected on Steelers’ defense

Ryan Shazier, Keith Butler AP

Dick LeBeau is out and Keith Butler is in, but the Steelers’ defense isn’t changing.

That’s the word from Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward, who says the change at defensive coordinator is the only difference for the Steelers. Heyward says the Steelers’ D will still run the same schemes with Butler (who has been the team’s linebackers coach for the last 12 years) as it did under LeBeau (who has moved to the Titans after spending the last 11 years running the defense in Pittsburgh).

“I don’t think there are going to be too many changes,” said Heyward. “It’s going to be the same details. We will have a couple of new wrinkles, but we won’t share them now.”

The Steelers’ defense had a rough year in 2014, and they need to change something. But those changes will have to come from the players. The coaches are going to run the same system they’ve been running in Pittsburgh for a long time.

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Hernandez claims he’s running out of cash

Hernandez Getty Images

After nearly two years of legal maneuverings in multiple criminal cases and with no income, it’s no surprise that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is running out of cash.

One of his lawyers, John Fitzpatrick, made that argument to a Massachusetts judge on Thursday in connection with the efforts of the mother of Odin Lloyd, Ursula Ward, to find assets that can satisfy the wrongful death lawsuit filed previously against Hernandez.

Ward’s lawyer, Douglas Sheff, hopes to obtain more information about property owned by Hernandez. Already, his $1.3 million North Attleboro home can’t be sold. Also, a court order has blocked Hernandez from selling a 2005 Hummer.

The families of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu have also filed wrongful death claims against Hernandez, as has Alexander Bradley, who claims Hernandez shot Bradley in the face in February 2013.

Still pending is an effort by Hernandez to recover the remainder of his August 2012 signing bonus — $3.25 million from the Patriots. That money presumably will go to any victims who can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Hernandez injured or killed them. With Hernandez also convicted via proof beyond a reasonable doubt of killing Lloyd, the civil action against Hernandez arising from Lloyd’s death is a slam dunk.

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No developments yet in Mariota talks

Marcus Mariota, former Oregon quarterback and overall No. 2 NFL football draft pick by the Tennessee Titans, answers questions during a news conference Friday, May 1, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. Mariota was selected by the Titans in the first round Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) AP

The Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota had intended to commence contract negotiations this week. If they did, they didn’t get very far.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, no developments are expected this week.

Mariota is the only pick taken in the top seven who has not yet signed. Because the first overall pick in the draft (quarterback Jameis Winston) signed a deal that includes offset language for the fully-guaranteed four-year deal and the third overall pick (linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.) agreed to a contract that has no offset language (allowing Fowler to get paid twice, if he gets cut), the question of whether Mariota’s language will include offset language could become a major sticking point.

Otherwise, the deal could be done very quickly, especially since the ceiling has been set by Winston and the floor by Fowler.

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NFL may see its first one-point safety

safety AP

A little-noticed aspect of the NFL’s new extra point rule is that we could see, for the first time in league history, a one-point safety.

If the defense gets the ball in the field of play on a conversion attemp, and then a defensive player takes the ball into his own end zone and is tackled, the result will be a one-point safety: The offensive team will get one point. That has never happened before in NFL history.

It had never happened before because it was virtually impossible: In the past, any time the defense took possession of the ball on a point-after attempt (either a one-point kick or a two-point conversion), the play was blown dead. A one-point safety was theoretically possible before, but it would have happened only if the defensive team had illegally batted a fumbled ball in the end zone.

One-point safeties have happened in college football, most notably in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, when Kansas State blocked an Oregon extra point and a Kansas State player picked up the ball and ran it into his own end zone. The college rule that gives the defense the opportunity to score two points by returning an interception, fumble or blocked kick to the opposite end zone means that defensive teams that take possession of the ball will try to run it back for a score, and sometimes those players end up getting tackled after backtracking into their own end zones.

With that rule now in place in the NFL, it will happen in the NFL eventually as well: Some defensive player is going to reverse field, get caught in his own end zone, and give up the first one-point safety in NFL history.

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Alouettes G.M. high on Michael Sam’s pass-rushing ability

Michael Sam AP

If Michael Sam is a success with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, the NFL might not get a shot at him until 2017.

Sam’s two-year deal is essentially two one-year contracts, with Montreal holding the option for 2016, Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp told PFT on Friday. The club has until the end of 2015 to exercise the second year of the deal.

Short of the Alouettes terminating the contract, Sam’s playing rights will belong to Montreal for the duration of the deal, Popp said. Also of note: the NFL’s CBA forbids clubs from signing “any player who in the same year has been under contract to a Canadian Football League club at the end of that CFL club’s season (regular season or postseason, whichever is applicable).”

The Alouettes have had interest in signing Sam, the former Rams and Cowboys defensive end, since last year. Negotiations “heated up really strong last week,” Popp said Friday.

Sam will work at both defensive end spots in Montreal, where he will get a chance to show he can get after the quarterback, especially on obvious passing downs.

“He can really turn and bend the corner,” Popp said, noting that Sam has “a great first step.”

The Alouettes already have an accomplished end in John Bowman, a 32-year-old Wingate (N.C.) University product who’s notched double-digit sacks in five of the last six seasons. And as Popp noted, Sam can also seek guidance from Alouettes defensive quality control coach Anwar Stewart, a recently retired productive pass rusher for Montreal.

As Popp sees it, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Sam’s skill set suits the Canadian game well.

“He’s just a classic tweener that excels in the CFL as a rush end,” Popp said.

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NFLPA not commenting on Roger Goodell’s refusal to recuse

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The players union is apparently going to wait through the holiday weekend before turning up the volume.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the NFLPA is declining comment on commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to hear Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said earlier on ESPN’s Outside the Lines: “If we don’t get a response by the end of next week, we’ll certainly increase the volume of the request.”

Of course, there’s also the possibility of filing a lawsuit on Brady’s behalf to prevent Goodell from hearing the appeal himself.

But with everyone heading out for the holiday weekend, they’re probably better served turning their criticism of Goodell as witness/arbitrator until the rest of the country’s back at work on Tuesday and ready to listen.

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Report: Goodell rejects NFLPA request to recuse himself from Brady appeal

Getty Images

During an appearance on ESPN Friday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said that the union would “certainly increase the volume of the request” didn’t get a response from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to their request that he recuse himself from hearing Tom Brady’s appeal by the end of next week.

According to multiple reports, the union has gotten their response and it is the one that most people were expecting after Goodell said at the league meeting this week that he wanted to hear from Brady himself. Goodell will not be turning the appeal over to a neutral arbitrator, which is a decision that’s sure to increase the volume from the union all by itself.

A date has not been set yet for the appeal and Smith said Friday that the union has not decided whether to file a lawsuit asking that Goodell be removed as the arbitrator before the appeal is heard. The NFLPA has said it intends to call Goodell as a witness, which is among the issues they feel demands that he recuse himself from the proceedings.

Goodell said that he looks forward “to hearing directly from Tom if there’s new information” that can help in “getting this right.” That’s raised speculation that the suspension could be reduced if Brady agrees to hand over the text messages that he was unwilling to provide Ted Wells during the investigation that preceded his report and Brady’s discipline.

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Delvin Breaux catching notice in Saints practices

Montreal Alouettes v Hamilton Tiger-Cats Getty Images

The Saints picked two cornerbacks in this year’s draft as part of an overhaul to the group that started when they signed Brandon Browner as a free agent, but P.J. Williams and Damian Swann aren’t the only players on the coaching staff’s radar in their first NFL offseason.

There’s also Delvin Breaux, who signed with the Saints in January after playing two years with Hamilton in the Canadian Football League. Breaux landed on that side of the border after a stint in the Arena League jumpstarted a football career that slowed because of a spinal injury that kept him from playing in college. The long road to get to the NFL may pay off for the 27-year-old.

At 6-1 and 196 pounds, Breaux has the kind of size that teams look for at corner and there were several other teams interested in his services before he landed in New Orleans. Breaux says he feels comfortable playing anywhere in the secondary and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called him a “tremendous” player recently. Veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis gave a similar review of what he’s seen from Breaux thus far this spring.

“You’re definitely going to hear from him. Right now, you know, I’m very impressed at minicamp,” Lewis said, via the New Orleans Advocate. “The guy’s got talent. He just had to go through some of the things he went through. I can promise you that he will definitely be a star in the league this year.”

Browner, Lewis, Williams and Swann are pretty good bets to make the team at corner and Stanley Jean-Baptiste was a second-round pick last year, which may not leave a lot of spots up for grabs at the position. Breaux seems to be on the right track, though, and will be a player to watch as the summer unfolds if he stays on his current path.

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49ers hope this is the year Lawrence Okoye shows he can play

San Francisco 49ers' Okoye stands on the field before their NFL pre-season football game against Denver Broncos in San Francisco Reuters

The 49ers took a chance two years ago when they signed Lawrence Okoye, a British discus thrower who had never so much as put on a pair of shoulder pads. After spending 2013 on injured reserve and 2014 on the practice squad, this is the year the 49ers hope the decision to sign Okoye pays off.

The 6-foot-6, 304-pound Okoye has the physical tools to play defensive line in the NFL, and the 49ers need some depth on the defensive line after losing Justin Smith to retirement and cutting Ray McDonald. The San Jose Mercury News notes that Okoye could be part of the 49ers’ plans in replacing those losses.

“I’m not going to talk about what I deserve or possible roster spots. I’m just going to say we’ve got a great D-line,” Okoye said. “We’ve got some really good, young talent and we’re all competing. Whatever they do, they’re going to have a good D-line, that’s all I can say. I’m enjoying it, and I’m looking forward to training camp and the preseason.”

New 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula was Okoye’s position coach the last two years, and Okoye says he has a strong connection with Tomsula.

“I’m so happy for him. Without him, I wouldn’t still be in the league. It’s great for me to see that he’s getting his just deserves. He’s been such a good coach for such a long time,” Okoye said.

Tomsula has his work cut out for him this year in San Francisco. Getting a contribution from Okoye would help.

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Union hasn’t heard from Commissioner on recusal request, yet

Smith Getty Images

In a wide-ranging interview with Bob Ley of ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith addressed the status of the union’s request that Commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself from the appeal hearing in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for being “at least generally aware” of a scheme to deflate footballs.

Smith told Ley that the union has yet to hear anything in response to the formal request that Goodell step aside, due both to his status as a witness in the case and his inability to be impartial. The request apparently will be reiterated if a response doesn’t come soon.

“If we don’t get a response by the end of next week, we’ll certainly increase the volume of the request,” Smith said.

Goodell’s comments from Wednesday indicate fairly clearly that he still intends to handle the appeal personally. Smith declined to divulge whether a lawsuit challenging Goodell’s intent to serve as the arbitrator will be filed before or after Goodell issues a ruling on the appeal.

Earlier on Friday, the league office told PFT that a date has not yet been set for the Brady appeal hearing.

As to the arguments in support of a reversal of the suspension, Smith opted not to share many details. Most significantly, he pointed to the decision to embrace the recollections of referee Walt Anderson on all points except the question of which of the two pressure gauges he used when setting air-pressure levels before the game. The gauge that Anderson recalled using generated halftime PSI readings that are almost entirely consistent with the operation of the Ideal Gas Law.

Smith also provided this general assessment of the 243-page document generated by independent investigator Ted Wells: “The Wells report delivered exactly what the client wanted.”  As to the independence of the Wells investigation, Smith added, “You can’t really have credibility just because you slap the word ‘independent’ on a piece of paper.”

Many still wonder why the NFL would have wanted to find the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady guilty. At one level, this was about re-establishing the Commissioner’s role as “The Enforcer,” proving to the world that he’ll never again go too easy on anyone suspected of wrongdoing. At another level, it created an opportunity for one or more league officials with a bias against the Patriots to initiate the launch sequence for full-blown investigation and punishment by, most significantly, leaking false PSI information to ESPN, which created the impression that someone must have messed with the air pressure and which placed the Patriots, who didn’t know the true readings until March, on their heels.

After ESPN reported that 11 of 12 New England footballs were two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum, the NFL never corrected the record. The real numbers ultimately appeared in May, as part of a lengthy report that never even acknowledged the false leak that ultimately allowed Ted Wells and company to milk millions from the league’s coffers in an investigation that, if the real numbers had been released at the outset, probably would have never happened.

This didn’t start as a grand conspiracy. It started based on halftime readings below 12.5 PSI and ignorance to the application of science to football air pressure, and it grew into an occasion to re-establish the potency of the Commissioner.

At a time when many believe the Commissioner’s strings are manipulated from above, this case may have been sparked by his strings being manipulated from below. And now the NFLPA is hoping to get the case resolved by someone who has no strings attached to the league or any of its teams.

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Brees dodges #DeflateGate questions

Brees Getty Images

This time around, Drew Brees doesn’t need an explanation.

Three years after the Saints found themselves in the cross hairs of a league investigation that had the feel of a mouse being hunted with an elephant gun, the Patriots find themselves in the same situation. With the Patriots, however, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is keeping a much lower profile.

“Honestly, I’m just worried about my team and doing what we need to do to win a championship, and to your point, being on that side of it at one time, it’s a difficult situation, it’s not favorable for either side to have to go through something like that,” Brees said earlier this week on ESPN Radio, Nick Underhill of New Orleans Advocate. “You hope for the best resolution, and then it’ll be back to playing football.”

Brees had more (but not much more) to say about the process of preparing footballs for game play.

“Honestly, I’ve never given it that much thought,” Brees said. “I really haven’t. You know, there is a process by which we pick footballs before a game. You kind of break them in, in practice, you kind of rub them down, whatever, but once they’re out on game day, you’ve got other things to worry about other than what the balls are like.

“You know, you’re focused on throwing to the right guy, being on time, where are the defenders, who’s coming to get you. You’ve got enough things going on, but honestly, I really have never given it that much thought other than, I like the balls broken in a certain way, but then after that, I think you just play ball with whatever ball comes up.”

It’s no surprise that Brees is keeping a low profile. Most players are. Still, like many other players who don’t play for the Patriots, Brees opted not to rush to Tom Brady’s defense. Which, when considering the volume of the players who have opted not to rush to Brady’s defense, says something.

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Twenty-four years ago Friday, the NFL moved to add two teams

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 1980s saw the NFC dominate the NFL, winning eight of 10 Super Bowls. The 49ers were the team of the decade, capturing four championships. Teams were prone to make music videos. Coaches were known to wear wonderful sweaters.

However, one thing we didn’t see in the 1980s was NFL expansion. The league stayed put at 28 teams, just as it had since 1976, when Seattle and Tampa Bay came on board.

But at the start of the 1990s, the NFL wanted to get bigger. And 24 years ago today, the league’s teams approved a plan to expand by two teams by 1994.

Ultimately, the two new teams — the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars — did not start play until 1995. They were followed by the “new” Cleveland Browns (1999) and Houston Texans (2002).

The question now, of course, is when a Los Angeles-area team or teams follows these additions.

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